Confidence and Concussions
By: Craig Sobel
Today we have a guest post from Craig Sobel from Dadocity. Enjoy!
My nine year old son knows more about professional football than you do. Some of you may be nodding your head in agreement because, frankly, you don’t know – nor care – anything about professional football. Others of you are shaking your head in disagreement, thinking to yourself that no nine year could possibly know more about the NFL than you, right? Well, you’re wrong and I’ve got the videos to prove it.
But before we “go to the tape”, I need to make another declarative statement. My eleven year old knows more about transportation and vehicles than you. And my five year old daughter will know more about dance than you in a couple years. My one year old – I’m not sure what subject he’ll be an expert in, but whatever it is, he’ll know more than you about it.
This is not meant to be insulting to you at all. And, truthfully, there are probably a few of you who actually do know more about the given subject than my little specialists. But we take these interests very seriously in our family. We encourage the kids to “own” the topics that they love.
I grew up as a generalist, meaning I knew a lot of things about a lot of subjects, but wouldn’t ever have considered myself to be an expert on any of those topics. That broad understanding served me well at things like dinner parties (“Why, yes, of course I remember Will Perdue, backup center on the Chicago Bulls first three championship teams of the 90’s. In fact, I believe he was traded for Dennis Rodman who was one of the keys to the second three championship teams….”) or in Trivial Pursuit (“The name of singer/song writer of “Break My Stride” was Matthew Wilder, of course.”) but did little to make me feel like I was elite in any one subject.
So, as my kids grow, I want to give them every opportunity to find something they love and own it. By that, I mean, take in as much as they can, absorb details, study the nuances, gather more complex information, form educated opinions, and show their love for the subject whenever and whenever they can. To be clear, this is not the Todd Marinovich obsessive father syndrome…. I’m not force-feeding my kids to be something they have no interest in being. Rather, what I try to do is encourage them to go beyond initial curiosity to a real understanding and passion for what it is they love. I stoke the flames of the curiosity.
Whenever I’m taking a plane trip, Jack and I discuss the airline, the airplane, the seat assignment, the departure gate, the airport at which I’ll arrive and other details that might interest him. Emma loves to show off her “moves” to any song that may be playing. She loves to watch other people dance and tries to imitate them. And, lately, she’s been concentrating on doing a split, which to my surprise, she has almost got down.
And then there is Will, who has taken this parenting experiment to new heights. Will loves football. He sleeps and breathes football. He’s nine years old and is already in the habit of reading ProFootballTalk.com every morning when his wakes. On occasion, Will and I take our dog around the lake in our community in the evening and he’ll spend all 45 minutes of that walk talking football… “Dad, test me on the tight ends on every team” or “Dad, let me tell you who I think is going to win each division this year and who the wild card teams will be.” Over the summer, Will spends way more time than either Blythe or I would like in front of the computer, simulating fantasy football drafts to test out the best strategy for his real team draft. He loves every second of it.
Will has even created his own persona around football. The headmaster of the school our kids go to is a PhD, and as such, she is referred to as a doctor. When we explained to Will that she was not a medical doctor, but that “doctor” could also refer to someone with a high level of education in one specific subject, he very quickly dubbed himself Dr. Football. And soon after, Dr. Football really came to life. For the past two years, when time allows, Will becomes Dr. Football in a series of short webcasts, where he discusses the NFL in pretty great detail. Jack, his older brother, “hosts” the show and asks him questions. While we script a lot of the stuff Jack does at the beginning of the show, when it comes to answering questions, it’s all Will, off the top of his head, discussing what he knows about the NFL. They are both very proud of their Dr. Football videos. They even have a Facebook page! (They’d love it if you gave them a like!)
Will also loves playing football. He sees himself as a running back, spinning and leaping as he focuses on getting to the end zone. Will, on defense, watches that ball like a hawk, waiting for the opportunity to jump a route and make an interception. After flag football games, we get the “almost” instant replay from Will, but this time, with commentary. And the commentary is really something to be heard. “See, I grabbed the ball TWO INCHES before it hit the ground, rolled over on my back and jumped to my feet. BUT I couldn’t land with BOTH feet because one would have been out of bounds so I hopped over toward the middle of the field and starting sprinting. THEN, the other team starting charging me so I twisted and turned and I had to dive over the end zone line for the TOUCHDOWN!!”
So, it brings me great sadness to know that Will will never really play football. This isn’t pessimism about his NFL chances. I know those would be one in a million, especially for a boy whose genetics probably wouldn’t work in his favor to grow to NFL bigness. I’m saying that Will won’t be playing tackle football at any level. And I’m very sad for him about it.
For those of you who might not follow the sport closely, professional football is in a quandary right now. There are hundreds of former football players who are suing the NFL because of the damage that was done to their brains as players. Concussions weren’t treated at all 20+ years ago and we’re now seeing the awful results of that policy. Retired players are reporting severe cases of depression and early onset dementia. Worse still, there are several players who have recently committed suicide to escape the pains that haunt them due to, what many believe, the trauma inflicted upon their brains while they played. In this past week, Junior Seau, a very high profile former NFL athlete, took his own life. He shot himself in the chest, not the head. He purposely preserved his brain so that researchers could study it. He hoped that, in the future, that research would help other people with similarly damaged brains.
In general, I’m more of a risk-taker than I am risk adverse. However, to me, the consequences of this risk are far too high. I love my son too much to allow him to risk permanent brain damage because he wanted to play a game. Granted, it’s an important game to him, one he clearly loves and embraces. But he’s going to have to find another avenue to be a part of it as he grows older, like perhaps a journalist or trainer. Until the sport has figured out how to properly treat concussions, Will won’t be a player.
Some people believe that’s a foolish and rash decision. High school kids don’t get hit nearly as hard as professional athletes, I’ve been told. The truth is that concussions happen more often in high school (sometimes due to the lesser protections that the equipment a highs school team uses compared to professional equipment). Often times, the high school coaching staff is ill prepared to recognize the symptoms of concussions. And the damage that can be done is far greater to a high school age brain, as it has not yet fully developed.
My job as a dad is going to be to help Will understand this decision and still find a way for him to enjoy the game at the level he expects. I’m certain there is an answer. Maybe he’s the future founder and commissioner of the Professional Flag Football League. Whatever the answer may be, I know I’m very lucky. He’s a great kid and I plan to keep him that way.